We’re overjoyed to feature this installment of blogger and mama Sarah Kurliand‘s homeschooling column, Education Expedition! Ever heard of “worldschooling?” Neither had we. This month, Sarah interviews Jessica Sueiro, blogger for GoodieGoodieGumDrop and world schooling mama, to get into the nitty gritty. Frankly, Dear Readers, our mind has been blown.
Last month, I highlighted some Philadelphia based homeschool programs and touched on a few of the many ways families can go about alternative education.
One method is Worldschooling, or traveling with the world as your classroom. With technology continuing to shift the typical 9-5 office work model, location independent lifestyles are becoming more popular among families across the globe. This month I want to introduce you to a family who left their mainstream lifestyle in Massachusetts for Worldschooling.
Meet Jessica, travel blogger at GoodieGoodieGumdrop and worldschooling Mama to 2 kiddos. In May, the Sueiro family decided to sell all their belongings and hit the road of adventure from Massachusetts to Costa Rica.
Both of your children (ages 10 & 7) were in private school before you left. What made you choose to start homeschooling your children?
We only home school (aka world school) our daughter Avalon. Our son (Largo) is in a private French school here in Costa Rica for a couple more years. We had a handful of reasons for choosing to world school Avalon, but the biggest trigger was that she had been requesting it for years. We kept telling her “maybe next year” because we were scared to death to venture into the land of the unknown. Ultimately we decided that we owed it to her to explore world schooling, plus it was a great opportunity for us to show our children that even mommy and daddy have fears to fight.
Another reason we chose to world school Avalon was for socialization, yes you read that correctly. We wanted her to be able to socialize outside of her gender, grade, culture and comfort level. In our opinion some pretty amazing socializing can happen outside the four walls of a school and we wanted to take advantage of it. In her adult life Avalon will spend a considerable amount of time dealing with the opposite gender and people of varying ages, so why not start building those skills from a young age.
Also, we wanted to be able to customize her education curriculum. Avalon is a kinesthetic learner and learns best while carrying out a physical activity. Kinesthetic learners make up only 5% of the population; therefore many school programs do not cater to this minority. We wanted the ability to customize her education to her learning style and personal interests. As a result, she could then enjoy a shorter school day that would give her more time to explore her entrepreneurial and creative sides.
In addition, we wanted more time as a family. Avalon is 10 years old and our life with her since she started school has been a rush to the finish line. Before we know it she will be off on her own adventures and we will not be able to get that time back. We felt that if she was schooled outside the traditional realm we could cut her school hours down, still do a small handful of activities, socialize and gain more time as a family.
Finally, by world schooling Avalon we have the ability to travel more freely and educate her using the world as her classroom. She is able to explore other cultures, food, learn about history and geography on the front lines, and embrace Spanish and much more.
World schooling gives Avalon the opportunity to develop at her own pace into the person she is authentically meant to be. It is refreshing to give her a year to discover more about her wants and needs without any outside influences. We want to nurture her passions and help her through her weaknesses without killing her love for learning. Thus far we are very pleased with the results of world schooling and we plan to continue it another year.
What are the pros and cons of teaching Avalon at home/on the road?
I would say that the biggest pros of teaching Avalon on the road would be more family time, a global education, customized curriculum, exposure to many different people and cultures, time to explore her personal interests and the list truly goes on.
I had to think pretty hard on the cons, as well as consult my husband. I would say that Will and I now have less time to get our work done, therefore we often have to work late at night, early mornings or weekends. Another con for our family relates to our first three-months and how ugly they were. Our challenges during that time were a lot of parent/child tension in adjusting to the world schooling life. In hindsight we should have de-schooled longer than we did, but we thought she did not need it. I wish I could balance the pros and cons list, but I cannot because we are extremely happy with this life and the results.
What do you and your husband do to bring in income and allow the location independent lifestyle?
I am a graphic designer (cucumberdesign.com) and blogger (goodiegoodiegumdrop.com). My husband is an accountant (foreriverassociates.com) and aspiring Go Pro’er. We both are location independent which gives us the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world and the ability to customize our work day to fit our lifestyle.
I think a lot of people believe it is more expensive to travel as a family than it truly is. Can you shed some light on the financials of living in Massachusetts vs. living abroad?
I love this question. Our monthly expenses in Costa Rica are 2/3 less than they were in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Now, I must acknowledge that Cambridge is a very expensive area of the US and our savings would not be nearly as drastic from other parts of the US. In addition, we practice living frugally in Costa Rica, but the cost of living is still considerably less than Cambridge. An extra added plus is that we now have money left over each month to explore Costa Rica, this was almost non-existent in our life in the US.
What does a typical school day look like in your family?
There is no such thing as a typical day in our life, but I will do my best to paint a picture. Remember we have one child still in a brick and mortar school, therefore our first order of business each morning is getting him off to school on time.
Avalon and I communicate her daily assignments through the OneNote program. She usually starts her morning with a little reading in bed, checks her OneNote to see what is on the agenda for the day and then makes breakfast. She is responsible for finishing her chores and maintaining her personal hygiene before she starts her day at around 7:30 am.
Math is the only subject that Avalon does every day, first thing in the morning. It is her least favorite subject, but luckily Will is an accountant and has all the necessary skills to help her. After Math she works through her other subjects, these vary from day to day. Avalon may be working on a social studies clay project, writing a song, reading (we use a lot of living books), watching a documentary, doing research, meeting with her online art class community, starting a science experiment, uploading discussions and writing assignments for her CTY classes, meeting with her language tutors, writing, volunteering at a local children’s home, watching a grammar video, etc. She manages her own snacks, recess and bathroom breaks. Several days a week she has language tutors who either visit the house or she goes to their house. Some days she prepares her own lunch, some days our cook does it and other days Will or I do it. After six months of world schooling we are finally starting to find our groove and become a well-oiled machine.
Will and I both work from home, therefore we all have to work as a team, but also be very personally responsible for our work. This arrangement would not work if we had to hold her hand through everything. Quite frankly, our philosophy is not to micro manage her, but give her the room to arrange her day as it suits her. We find that giving Avalon more control over her schedule (within reason) makes her happier and more personally vested.
Avalon and I meet at the end of each day to go over her assignments, talk about any questions or problems she may be having, to upload files, to discuss what she has learned and much more. I am always available throughout the day whenever Avalon has a question, but we do our best to let her work as independently as possible.
Avalon spends her mid afternoons exploring, reading, creating or attending an after school activity with friends. This is her time to do with as she pleases.
What are your qualifications to teach your children?
Will and I both hold a four-year university degree. We have several other certifications and have studied additional areas of interest over the years. I hold a University of San Diego teaching certificate from almost twenty years ago, but I still remember the valuable information I learned in that program. I taught Graphic Design to inner city high school students in Los Angeles for two years which led to me getting some intense real world teaching experience.
We are well-traveled. Since we are worldschoolers, we feel this is valuable experience, not crucial, but definitely valuable because we can recognize the benefits of learning through travel.
We are passionate about education and the importance of nurturing a love of learning in our children. We believe that there are key elements that must be learned in the course of a child’s education, but that interest driven work is equally important. Our plan is to help each child find their passion and give them the skills, strength and motivation to go after it.
We are great researchers, this enables us to find the materials, resources and anything else necessary to aid in Avalon’s learning process. In addition, this resourcefulness provides us with the tools to seek assistance in any areas that we are not versed in.
We are vested in making this work. These kids are our babies and we will do whatever we need to in order to make their education experience a pleasure. I interact with a lot of world schooling parents and one of the consistent elements I see is the passion they have for teaching their children.
Do you utilize a formal curriculum?
We do not utilize a formal curriculum solely. Unfortunately, we did not find a curriculum that met all of our needs. As a result, we decided to customize the curriculum to our philosophy.
Our philosophy is:
We use LIVING BOOKS (Charlotte Mason) as our main source of teaching a concept that is then further reinforced through SHORT THEMED LESSONS (Waldorf) and NARRATED (Charlotte Mason) back through SELF DIRECTED (Montessori), PROJECT BASED LEARNING (Reggio Emilia) that integrates multiple subjects of study. This gives them the freedom to utilize their IMAGINATION, SELF THINKING and CREATIVITY (Waldorf). It is important that we educate to the WHOLE CHILD (ALL) with an intense understanding of INTERNATIONAL ISSUES (International Baccalaureate) and CULTURAL AWARENESS (International Baccalaureate) gained solely through travel.
We use a hybrid of online resources and customize other subjects. For example, Avalon was in an International French school before we started world schooling. We wanted to maintain the French so we purchase a home schooling program through the French Ministry of Education for Language Arts. We then hired a French tutor here in Costa Rica for four hours a week to work through the material with Avalon. We don’t do a lot of formal testing in our world schooling, but this particular subject has exams that are submitted to the French Ministry and corrected by a native speaking teacher in France. We love this program because we don’t speak French and it helps her maintain it and track her progress.
At first it seemed rather daunting to think about customizing a curriculum, but once we broke it down and established what subjects would be outsourced, what would be purchased and what would be customized it became much more manageable. I would say that 50% of our curriculum is purchased and outsourced; the remaining 50% is customized by us.
Do you feel like you need to outsource for any subjects? If yes, what platforms do you use?
Absolutely, for many reasons. First, my husband and I do not have the expertise in all subject areas. Also, we want Avalon to interact with other adults, teachers and students across the globe and one of the ways to do this is through collaboration and teaching. Finally, if we taught everything we would not have any time left to work and then we could not live this lifestyle.
Regarding platforms we pretty much use them all. She uses Google Hangouts for her art class. The class is once a week and is live with video feed. The teacher is based in the US and the kids are from all over the world. Avalon also takes a class though CTY at John Hopkins that is online as well, but not live. The children in the class are from all over the world and they respond to each other at their own desired time. Also, we use a French and Spanish teacher in our community. As a result, she gets in person time with both of these ladies. In addition, she is part of a traditional Costa Rican dance troupe in our community. She goes to class two-three times a week and hangs out with local girls around her age.
What are your family’s plans after Costa Rica?
We plan to move to Ecuador in October for a year. After Ecuador we are thinking Europe, but we are not quite sure yet. Our plan is to change countries every year or two for the next decade until Largo goes off to college.
Anything that you want to share with people that might be considering taking the Worldschooling leap?
Just do it! It is scary, but you will survive. My advice is to trust your gut and research, research, research. You know how your child learns and what they need. With the Internet, anything is possible these days. Join Facebook home schooling groups, find your tribe, ask for help and push forward. A friend of mine told me that the first place to start is to find your education philosophy and everything else will fall into place. It was the best advice I received thus far regarding alternative schooling. Finally, if I can help you please reach out to me. I was helped a lot in the beginning and I believe in paying it forward.
Sarah Kurliand is a Wife/Mama/Yogini/Writer who spends her days adventuring around the Philadelphia area with her crazy boys. She is passionate about living a healthy lifestyle, discovering new places, people and things and living a life that leaves the world better than the way she found it. You can find more of her writing at www.ourspiritedlife.com or follow her on Facebook or Instagram @ourspiritedlife.